What is encephalopathy in children?

What are the symptoms of encephalopathy in children?

The type of symptoms and how bad they are can vary. This condition may make it hard for your child to think clearly, focus, or remember things. It may affect how alert your child is. Other symptoms include changes in personality or mood, seizures, and poor muscle tone.

How is encephalopathy in children treated?

The doctor will treat what's causing the problem. For example:

  • If your baby didn't get enough oxygen or blood to the brain during birth, the doctor may use special techniques to cool your child's brain or core body temperature. This can help prevent more damage to the brain.
  • If your child has pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs), your child may need oxygen therapy.
  • If your child's liver or kidneys aren't working the way they should, the doctor may prescribe medicines or other treatments that help the organ work better. Treatment can also help prevent the buildup of toxins in the blood.
  • If your child has an infection, your child may need antibiotics.

When doctors can't treat the cause of the problem, they treat the symptoms. For example, the doctor may prescribe medicine to control seizures.

Sometimes a child may need to be treated in the hospital. Your child may get fluids or nutrition through a vein (I.V.). Or your child may get help through a breathing tube that is attached to a machine (ventilator). Your child will be watched closely to help prevent serious problems, such as hearing loss, seizures, and brain damage.

Your child may need follow-up care. Over time, the doctor will check for long-term physical and learning problems.

How is encephalopathy in children diagnosed?

To help diagnose the condition, the doctor will ask about:

  • Your child's symptoms and past health.
  • The mother's health history.
  • The mother's and child's exposure to toxins and drugs.
  • Whether there's a family history of metabolic disorders or a serious type of headache called a hemiplegic migraine.

The doctor will also do a physical exam and watch how your child interacts and behaves.

The doctor may order tests, such as:

Blood and urine tests.

These may be done to check for chemical and fluid imbalances or toxins in the blood. They also look for problems with metabolism and signs of infection. And they may be done to see how well the kidneys and liver are working.

Lumbar puncture.

This may be done to measure the pressure of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and to get a sample of it. CSF is the colorless fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord.

MRI or CT scans.

These show a picture of the brain.

Electroencephalogram (EEG).

This shows the electrical activity of the brain.

Other tests

Other tests that may be done include:

Genetic testing.

This may be done if the doctor thinks an abnormal gene is causing the problem.

Cognitive tests.

This may be done to find out if the condition has affected your child's ability to think clearly, focus, solve problems, or remember.

Cranial ultrasound.

This may be done to check for bleeding or swelling in the brain and damage to certain areas of the brain.

Placenta and umbilical cord testing.

This is done to look at the mother's placenta and to take a sample of a newborn's umbilical cord blood.

How can you care for your child who has encephalopathy?

Work with your doctor on ways to care for your child at home. Give your child any medicines as prescribed. Take your child to all follow-up visits with doctors or physical therapists. Consider joining a support group or connecting with other parents who have children with similar conditions.

Getting support when caring for a child who has problems from encephalopathy

Your child may have physical and learning problems because of encephalopathy. But getting support can help you care for your child. Here are some ideas.

  • Talk to your doctor if your child needs specialized care.

    Your child may need:

    • Physical therapy. It can improve balance and motor skills.
    • Occupational therapy. It can help with daily activities, like eating and dressing.
  • Learn about your child's educational rights.

    Public schools are required to create an Individualized Education Program for children with special needs. This details your child's disability, appropriate teaching methods, and goals for the school year.

  • Work with your child's teacher.

    The teacher:

    • Can help make an education plan that focuses on your child's strengths and helps your child set goals.
    • May know about an in-school aide or tutor who can help your child.
  • Join a support group.

    Or talk with other parents who have a child with special needs.

  • Seek counseling.

    It can help you understand your feelings and work through them.

  • Think about respite care.

    This service provides a break for parents and siblings. This allows you to recharge, so you can be at your best for your child.

  • Take care of yourself.
    • Get enough rest, eat well, and exercise.

What is encephalopathy?

Encephalopathy is a condition that affects the brain. It can affect memory, thinking, and personality. It can also affect the nerves and muscles in the body. These problems may last a short time or cause problems over the long term.

What causes encephalopathy in children?

Many things can cause encephalopathy. These include:

Lack of oxygen or blood to the brain.

This may happen:

  • With a nonfatal drowning.
  • When the airway is blocked.
  • During cardiac arrest.
  • When a baby doesn't get enough oxygen during birth.
Exposure to toxins.

This may happen when:

  • An organ like the kidneys or liver can’t filter toxins from the blood.
  • A baby is exposed to alcohol or drugs before or after birth. Or it may happen when a child ingests these substances by accident or on purpose.
  • A child is exposed to toxins in the home or environment. Toxins include detergents, lead, carbon monoxide, and insecticides.

These may happen in the brain or spinal cord or throughout the body.

Problems with metabolism or abnormal genes.

This may happen:

  • When fluids or chemicals in the blood are out of balance. When this occurs, it can damage parts of the body, like the kidneys and liver.
  • Because of low or high blood sugar.
  • Because of a genetic problem, such as phenylketonuria (PKU), Prader-Willi, or MELAS syndrome.

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